Why Trail Runners should take up Speed Hiking!

Updated: Mar 19

.....or how to be faster on the trails.

But first, before we continue, an important piece of information… “Trail Running" or "Mountain Running" doesn’t necessarily mean you actually always run. Especially up long and steep hills or up a mountain. Even the very best in the mountain running discipline will walk or hike, if the terrain becomes too steep or too technical.

That is where "Speed Hiking" benefits us trail- and mountain runners!

Why? Because running up mountains or steep hills is actually quite hard and often less efficient than walking. And to scramble up steep rock or scree sides probably doesn’t qualify as actual “running” anyway. This is especially true on longer outings with lot's of vertical.

"Speed Hiking", as the term implies, is hiking at speed. That means, your gear is about the same as a trail runners.

Faster than a hiker but possibly slower than running. Think trail running meets hiking. Moving fast and light over technical and rocky terrain. Maximising energy consumption and endurance.

Already, some companies, like SALEWA, offer specialised kit just for Speed Hiking.

Speed Hiking up a snow field
Speed Hiking is for Trail Runners

Speed Hiking enables us trail runners to move faster over difficult or steep terrain. This is particularly true in the Swiss Alps. But in fact, anywhere where the going get's tough.

Some people hike, some run, some paraglide and some climb. For competitive minded people, the process of going to the mountains includes more than just experiencing a place, but also enjoying how it feels to flow through it at a faster pace.

Combining trail running with speed hiking is the way to 'flow' through the mountains!

Now you may think that trail running has nothing to do do with hiking! Don't worry, you will not be a hiker with a big backpack and heavy walking shoes.

But bear in mind, the trails of the Swiss Alps are often not urban smooth trails.

It requires to adjust your mind set. The focus is on preserving energy and moving fast in a safe manner.

If you are tempted to run on less steep sections, you need to know, that the difference in your heart rate and energy consumption between running and walking uphill is huge. But the speed difference is very small.

So far, we have been only talking about uphill. What goes up, normally has to come back down. Right? Unless one of the many Swiss gondolas, cable cars or mountain train stations nearby is tempting you to save your legs for another day!

Running downhill in general and in particular in the mountains requires skill. The more you do it, the better you will get!

At this point, if I say to you, that running downhill is often just a matter of walking. Only a bit faster! Well… sometimes it is. I’m not saying that you should walk downhill after you walk uphill, this would have you dangerously close to being a “hiker” wearing running gear.

I am just saying, keep your mind open.

Unless the trail is pretty smooth, for the average trail runner, descending will require constantly changing pace and a high level of concentration deciding ahead where to plant your feet. Certainly, you will go faster than walking, but not exactly always “running.” This applies even more so, as the trail gets steeper, rockier and more technical. It could have serious consequences if you fall or trip, or if you are twisting an ankle.